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Cook to unleash wave of ear, nose, throat products

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Cook Medical Inc. thinks it has a good thing going with its year-old ear, nose and throat division.

The Bloomington-based company recently launched two new products, and the company expects to launch eight to 10 more over the next year.

“Our product development teams have been very busy over the last few years,” said Thomas Cherry, global clinical leader of Cook’s otolaryngology-head and neck surgery division. “We are certainly seeing the ENT community embrace us.”

Cook’s strategy with its ENT division fits what it has done for 50 years: Find surgeons with unsolved patient problems, then create lots of devices to help them. Few of those products achieve large sales individually, but in the aggregate do quite well.

Cook’s product catalog has more than 14,000 items, compared with about 400 for a typical medical-device category. The products bring the company $2 billion in annual sales and still allow it to achieve profits roughly equivalent to the 13-percent average across the medical-device industry.

Cook is trying to capitalize on a steadily growing market for ear, nose and throat devices, as minimally invasive surgery techniques finally reach the field. Cook was a pioneer in using catheters to do minimally invasive surgeries, which have now become standard across medicine.

Sales of surgical devices for the ears, nose and throat have been growing about 7 percent to 8 percent per year, according to an analysis by Global Markets Direct. Sales are expected to continue that pace, reaching a market value of $10 billion by 2015.

Cook thinks it has an especially large market for its recently launched Hercules esophageal balloon, which helps open throats of elderly patients who can’t swallow food, a condition known as dysphagia.

Cook estimates 8 million to 10 million patients could benefit from such a procedure every year. A leading cause of dysphagia is the radiation therapy used to treat head and neck cancers. With seniors living longer, incidences of those cancers have been rising, which is also pushing up the frequency of dysphagia, Cherry said.

“This patient population is growing just based upon age,” he said.

Cherry has also taken advantage of some of Cook’s existing products, such as its Biodesign graft, a thin sheet of cellular matrix made from pig intestines. Cook’s biotech division launched that product back in 1998.

Now Cook’s ENT unit has adapted it for surgeries that repair a perforation inside patients’ noses. Such perforations occur in two main groups of patients: those who have had a brain tumor removed and cocaine users.

That amounts to as many as 15,000 patients per year, Cherry estimated. But right now, there aren’t good options for repairing the torn nasal passageways. Usually, ENT surgeons try a skin graft, but that is especially problematic in patients whohave used drugs, because their drug use reduces blood flow, making it hard for the graft to “take,” Cherry said.

Cook thinks its Biodesign graft, which helps a patient’s own tissue grow over a tear or hole, provides a better solution.

“It’s not a huge patient population,” Cherry said, “but there’s a significant patient need.”

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